On March 1st, the New York City Department of Education, or NYCDOE, declared that in-person learning for public high schools would resume on March 22nd. The NYCDOE has allowed hybrid learning for younger grades like elementary school students in December 2020 while middle school students returned in February 2021, but high schools have been closed since November 2020 due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
There are several reasons high schools have taken so long to open back up, one reason being that some schools are being used as vaccination centers. According to a study published by National Geographic, older children are also more likely to spread COVID-19. An article published by the New York Times stated most of New York City’s public high school students come from low-income backgrounds and are black and Latinx. Only students who had previously signed up for in-person learning in fall 2020 will be allowed to return to in-person classroom learning. This equates to about one third, or 55,000 students enrolled in high school of 282,000 students in the public high school system. Teachers have had priority since January to get the vaccine. About 17,000 high school employees were expected to return to work March 17th and 18th.
In a statement released on March 8th by NYCDOE Chancellor Meisha Porter, she outlines her plan for reopening high schools and keeping everyone safe. She states that students, who have parental consent, and staff would be randomly tested on a weekly basis. Students who do not consent to weekly testing will be moved to online learning.
QC senior Emily Ram is a student teacher for 12th graders. Currently, she is online with her students, and she seldom finds students are comfortable keeping cameras on. She tries incorporating activities and platforms like Padlet, Storyboard That, Canvas, Flipgrid, and making group projects as rigorous and engaging as possible. Having weekly mental check-in’s, accountability forms, opportunities to email and making Google slides as colorful as possible has helped with online learning.
We asked Ram what her initial thoughts were upon hearing that NYCDOE schools would be opening in person. She commented, “I was terrified about safety! Though the school I teach at is open three days a week, I am still concerned about how precautions are taking place, and if it is a good idea. The health of all of us comes first. On another note, there was a brief sense of hope that faculty members and administrative operations are doing everything they can to make sure it is safe enough for teachers and students to go in the building. I have a feeling they may end up closing again because we never have a clear plan with COVID-19, but we’ll see.” Ram states that she does not feel ready for in person learning. Three-fourths of faculty, staff, and students are fully remote, so accommodating not only in person students but online students will be tricky.
NYCDOE teacher Megan Blinn from Bayside High School expressed similar concerns. She mentioned that teaching throughout the pandemic has had many challenges. Blinn was not surprised upon hearing about high schools opening but is concerned about the safety of her students. “High schools are much larger than the elementary and middle schools and students often travel farther and on public transportation.”
Responding to the question of whether she’s ready for in-person learning, Blinn had this to say: “I’m not sure. I’ve gotten so used to remote teaching that this is my new normal. As of now, Bayside High School is still conducting learning remotely with the option for students to come into the building once a week for in-school support (if students have filled out the proper paperwork). It’s better for the students and the teachers to have an established routine. The constant closures and reopenings other schools have experienced (although necessary) are disruptive and confusing for many parents and students. I have students who are enjoying remote learning, but also have students who dislike it, but are still putting tremendous effort into their work in order to do well. I feel for the students who are struggling and truly need to be in the school setting for learning to be more productive.”